There is no getting away from it; while being one of the most rewarding medical careers available, becoming a general practitioner (GP), isn’t without its issues – including very real financial worries and strains. After all, before you can even call yourself a doctor you’ll have encountered two foundation years of education and then three years vocational training, all amassing debt as you progress. In addition, most GPs are independent contractors for the NHS, and so stable employment is never fully guaranteed. While the freedom to answer to yourself can be tempting, you’ll equally be desperate for the steady income. With all of these financial issues to take into consideration, it is little wonder that so many trainee doctors are turned off by the thought of general medicine. As the Health Secretary battles to employ 5,000 more GPs in the UK, just what can be done to quell the financial burdens that many of them are likely to face?
Financial burdens from the outset
Even before you have qualified to work in general medicine you’re likely to have accrued your fair share of debt; five years in education, numerous bulging textbooks, and specialist equipment are likely to set you back approximately £70,000. Based upon loans of £9,000 per year plus interest by the time you start working, these stark figures are turning potential doctors away in their droves. The government and its never ending list of schemes, supposedly designed to improve health care, are also partly to blame for the lack of GPs in some corners of the UK. The pressure to work even more hours, the reams of paperwork to complete and the soaring indemnity fees that mean some doctors simply can’t afford to work definitely turns off student doctors. The reduced hours that they’re actually free to treat and advise patients is also a cause for concern.
So, with all of the reports suggesting that many medical students will fail to repay their debts, the sheer amount of paperwork and data issues to iron out, and the demanding, thankless hours that doctors are expected to work, why should you become a GP? After all, it doesn’t sound like an enticing career option at this point. The truth is, though, that working in general medicine is actually one of the most rewarding careers you’re likely to find, enabling you to become a part of the UK’s most essential medical care teams. As your community’s first point of call you’ll encounter the same patients again and again, enabling you to build a real rapport with those under your care. You’ll also be expected to draw from a wide medical knowledge, putting pay to the comments that only those unable to specialise are likely to work as GPs; rather than one specialism you’ll likely have several fields in which you’re more than competent.
The role of a GP is challenging and fulfilling, and the sheer variety that you’ll be faced with on a daily basis is just one of the reasons you should be celebrating your career choice; how many people can say they never know what to expect when they head out for the day? You’re the community’s doctor, its confidant and the one person likely to be able to influence and encourage your patients to take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing. While there are enormous financial incentives for turning your back on the life of a GP, the expected salary for the role is rather tempting, with many earning between £50,000 and £80,000 a year; this salary is, of course, dependent upon the area in which you’re working, your experience and levels of expertise, and the hours you work. Those that stay on at their clinic and become a partner can command in the region of £102,000 per annum.
Of course, while student debt and expected salary will sometimes balance themselves out, you must understand that GPs aren’t immune to the financial issues that affect other people. Loans, particularly pay day loans, credit cards and store cards can be just as tempting to a doctor struggling to pay off their student debt, while mortgages, daily expenses, and luxuries such as holidays must be paid for too. If you’re struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel, or are now doubting your decision to become a GP, it’s time to take a step back and think about the ways in which your finances can be managed.
Solving financial issues
In his search to tackle the critical shortage of GPs in some of the country’s less affluent regions, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced a series of incentives designed to attract family doctors. These include £20,000 ‘golden hello’ welcome bonuses and financial support during their career, while medical students in Wales could see their debts eradicated under schemes announced by Plaid Cymru. If you’re willing to relocate to one of the UK’s less doctored areas, such as the East Midlands or North East England, you could be in line for similar incentives, which would, perhaps, be gratefully received. Relocation is also a factor in the general salary that you can command. While most GPs will work as self-employed contractors for the NHS or similar bodies, those who work longer hours in affluent areas could expect to receive much more than if settling elsewhere. These issues are certainly worth consideration if you’re embarking upon a career as a GP: where can you afford to live and work?
Alongside the incentives and schemes offered by our government, and employers, it may be worth investigating the other ways that you can escape debt or tackle your financial burdens. For example, you may have seen the adverts of companies offering to eradicate debt and claim back miss-sold payment protection plans on your behalf, but have you ever considered what you’re entitled to? As a medical student and graduate doctor there is a chance that you’ll have relied on loans or credit cards to get by, so it stands to reason that you may have the grounds for a claim. If you received financial assistance from a bank such as the Halifax, be sure to investigate the plausibility of a Halifax PPI claim, or ask someone to do it for you. It is also well worth seeking professional financial advice, particularly if you’re struggling to balance the books. Don’t you have enough to be worrying about? You’ll often find that first step towards help will be the hardest but it gets much easier in the weeks and months that follow, particularly if you begin to conquer those financial burdens.
While becoming a GP is perhaps one of the most rewarding and challenging career moves you’re likely to make, it isn’t without its financial burdens. From the debts that you’ll graduate with, to fluctuating hours and government schemes designed to tackle health care, the life of a GP is seldom a straightforward one. The good news is, though, there are several things that you can do to quell those financial burdens, as well as incentives to keep up the good work.